Apple's Expanding Presence Challenges Customer Service -- and Reputation

Apple has a great reputation, and its product base is growing. As a result, Apple is growing to meet the challenges of customer support. However, the broader awareness of the company and its products also means greater disappointment when something goes wrong, according to Business Week.

Appleis Mac growth is three times the average PC sales growth, and theyive sold 120 million iPods, burying the competition. Apple has branched out into the mobile phone market gaining even more consumer awareness. As a result, Apple has had to invest heavily in customer service. Some wonder if they can keep up the pace.

"... there are signs that it is vulnerable to the service struggles of other big companies," BW noted. A recent customer satisfaction survey showed that Apple had slipped a little, the first time since 2001, but still remains ahead of all other PC manufacturers. "Weive invested enough to be No. 1, in some cases by a large margin," said Tim Cook, Appleis COO. "And weire seeing a rise, so that makes us feel good."

Mr. Cook also noted that the average wait time is just two minutes for telephone customer support because the company is opening a new call center every two months.

However, despite Appleis efforts, the companyis success can sometimes magnify the effect of problems that get discussed in the blogosphere. That wasnit always the case.

"For years, the computer maker survived on its core of tech-savvy fanatics clustered in fields such as education and design. They were intensely loyal and thrilled to CEO Steven P. Jobsi unveiling of the smallest tweak in the Mac or iPod lineups. If there was an occasional glitch, it was the price of membership in the club," BW observed.

These days, however, Appleis audience is much larger, not so patient, and a bit more vocal. BW noted that, "Those new customers, lured by the companyis sterling reputation and marketing power, may feel deceived when they encounter bugs." As a result, the Internet buzzes with every Apple product problem.

Partly offsetting that effect is the presence of Appleis retail stores where wait times are holding steady and customers can come in and talk about a problem face to face. Still, there can be troubles when customers are too far away from an Apple retail store. In February, a Texas customer Michael Levin tried to describe his problem with a cracked MacBook over the phone. The Apple rep balked until the customer was able to explain his case. "[On the phone] that makes it easier for them to say no," said Mr. Levin. "Iim this nameless, faceless customer."